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SA govt did not comply with Constitution during vaccine procurement — law expert

President Cyril Ramaphosa updates the nation on government’s vaccine procurement and roll out plans. File picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS
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CAPE TOWN — Law experts say that government did not comply with the constitutional values, when it procured the vaccines.

Deputy director: African Procurement Law Unit at Unisa, Allison Anthony said South Africans were asking questions not because they were curious but because there’s a constitutional mandate for the government to provide information to the public.

“Government is functioning on a deficit of trust by the citizens and it’s got to a stage where it is being transferred from one department to the other. The fact that the government has not been transparent raises some serious questions, especially on the corruption that has been experienced.

“Because we are doubting how everything has been obtained, the public has begun even doubting that the vaccines work,” said Anthony, who was speaking during a webinar hosted by Corruption Watch.

Section 217 of the Constitution states that when the government contracts for goods and services it must do so in a way which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective.

The National Treasury is preparing sweeping legislative changes to the way procurement, which has become highly prone to corruption, is undertaken by public entities, including state-owned companies. It has indicated, however, that the new legal framework is likely to be passed by Parliament only at the end of 2022, implying that it is unlikely to come into force before 2023.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni published the draft Public Procurement Bill for public comment on February 19, ahead of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown

The draft bill includes various principles and instruments aimed at leveraging public procurement to support previously disadvantaged people, including women, youth and people with disabilities, and to promote the expansion of the country’s productive sectors.

Stellenbosch professor of law, Geo Quinot, who was also part of the panel, said there was much that was not known .

“All these uncertainties raise questions about whether the agreements will meet the constitutional requirement that public contracts must be concluded in terms of “a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”.

“If, for example, these vaccine supply contracts contain non-disclosure terms, transparency will be seriously reduced and with it any attempt at establishing whether the contracts were competitive and fair,” he said.

Meanwhile, acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, told a post-Cabinet briefing on Friday that Cabinet was pleased that the vials procured from several sources would arrive at “varying intervals” from April.

“Phase 2 will focus on essential workers and vulnerable groups, which includes people over the age of 60 years, people with comorbidities, as well as those living in places such as nursing homes and hostels. Citizens are reminded that vaccination is free and voluntary.”